A Row of Early 20th Century Two-Family Houses and an Outlier on St. Johns Place in Crown Heights

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in 2012 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.

By 1910, two family houses were the new row houses in Crown Heights, especially on the blocks between Sterling Place through Eastern Parkway, and further south towards Empire Boulevard.

On Brooklyn Avenue, Sterling and St. Johns Place, the Kings and Westchester Land Company was building their Kinkos Houses, double duplexes with separate entrances for each unit. These proved so popular that the idea was copied by others who also built in the neighborhood.

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The two-family homes were built to look like the one-families that cover the neighborhood. They were built in large groups by developers who would fill an entire side of the street with these homes. The large group at 950-980 St. Johns Place was one such row.

These homes, all designed by architect Arthur R. Koch in 1910, are really three smaller stylistic groups. All of them are set back far from the street by long raised front yards, coordinating with the houses on the other side of the block and creating a wide and gracious streetscape. Nos. 950 to 960 were one group, 962 to 970 another, and 972 to 980 the third. The three groups are slightly different, but present well as a group, with the angular bays undulating down the street.

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They are actually rather hard to codify, being not really Renaissance Revival, but a mixture of that and Colonial Revival and even some Arts and Crafts, the latter in the form of the terra-cotta decorative tile work ornamenting the houses. Inside, the larger apartment would have been the garden and parlor floors, with the upper floor as the second unit, accessed from the parlor floor with its own staircase.

This row of houses stayed relatively intact over the years, as St. Johns has always been a very nice block. It’s anchored on the eastern end by St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, built in 1915, and the House of Hills Funeral Home, one of Crown Heights’ oldest black owned businesses, which opened in one of the Kinko houses in 1959. Some of the houses lost their original doors, cornices or some ornament, but the row still looked good. Until the symmetry was broken in 2008.

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Here’s that story: 950 St. Johns was the first house in the row, and looked like its neighbors to the left of it. It was sold in 2008. The neighborhood was in line for the next phase of landmarking, and the block would soon be calendared. The neighbor next door, at 952, who had lived there for many years, was worried that construction noise would disturb her, but the new owner assured her that he was only going to fix up the house, and not much would change. He told her he was only going to put an addition on the back of the house. Yeah, right.

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Unbeknownst to any average person who does not regularly troll the Department of Buildings site, the owner had filed for a permit to tear down No. 950 and built a six-story apartment building. Before the neighbor knew what was happening, her quiet enjoyment was shattered by bulldozers and a wrecking ball, and the old house was soon torn down. A foundation was quickly laid for the new residential building, along with a large parking lot. The neighbors protested over the plans for the out-of-context building, but the owner had the FAR and the legal right to do so, and it was too late.

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The neighborhood push for landmarking was intensified, and soon after the foundation was poured, the neighborhood was calendared, meaning that at least this would be the only such fugly tower on St. Johns. The block was landmarked in 2011.

In his rush to beat landmarking, the owner found out that karma is not to be trifled with, as he had delays and problems with construction. The windows finally went in in 2011 and the final certificate of occupancy for the rental building was issued in 2014. In the historic district designation report, this building is the one classified with “no style.”

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